“Roma” is the “Boyhood,” “Moonlight” or “Get Out” of 2018. It is the most critically acclaimed movie of the year, with all the hype in the world surrounding it. Prior to watching it, I had relatively high expectations, but I mainly hoped it would not also be like those three films in that it would underwhelm me. That’s exactly what happened.
Set in Mexico City in the 1970s, this autobiographical Alfoson Cuarón film chronicles a year of the life of a middle-class family. It centers on the family’s servant, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio).
Included in almost all the praise heaped on this movie is praise for Aparicio’s performance. I liked her in the role, but she is sometimes a bit hard to read and invest in. Especially early in the film, her stoic face can be something of a mystery. As the narrative progresses and she’s asked to emote more, she is outstanding, but she doesn’t pulls off all the quieter moments.
As much as Aparicio gets kudos, Cuarón gets just as many for his assured directing. Serving as his own cinematographer here, he uses his signature long takes to help put viewers in the moment. Additionally, he uses tracking shots to help give moviegoers a sense of the time and place this film takes place in, as they often show us Mexico City as the characters are traveling through it.
I’m not sure why Cuarón went with the black and white, however, because it did not seem to serve much of a purpose. It gave the film a sense of being a memory, but it also lent it a sense of austere, artful realism. It’s certainly an artistic choice, but I’m not sure what function it serves.
Even with those impressive technical aspects, I struggled with this movie because it was uneven to me. “Roma,” which Cuarón also wrote, has moments of brilliance and heartbreak, but it also had a good number of scenes that didn’t work for me.
For example, the best sequence in the film, the birthing scene, is incredibly hard to watch and amazingly moving. But then there are scenes like the climax of the film, which was effective from a suspense standpoint, but the emotional payoff felt totally forced and disingenuous.
A significant portion of my problem with this comes from Cuarón employing this neorealist style mixed with touches of lyrical poeticism. As is often the case in those types of films, I found this a bit detached and cold. It often seemed like Cuarón was more of a dispassionate observer as opposed to a compassionate director.
So, I liked “Roma,” but I didn’t love it like most people seem to. I may give it another shot since so many filmgoers worship it, but I wonder if maybe it’s just not a movie for me. I give it three out of five stars.
“Roma” is rated R for graphic nudity, some disturbing images and language. It stars Yalitza Aparicio. Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta and Marco Graf and runs 2 hours and 15 minutes.